Skip to main content

Persecution, Toleration, Co-Existence: Early Modern Responses to Religious Pluralism

Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 4, 2013

A four-week seminar for sixteen college and university faculty on the varied responses to religious pluralism in the early modern era.

Historian Karin Maag (Calvin College) and Amy Nelson Burnette (history, University of Nebraska, Lincoln) direct a seminar that "approach[es] the topic of religious pluralism and responses to it in the early modern world through cross-confessional and inter-faith comparisons and from a multi-disciplinary perspective."  The seminar is held at the Meeter Center at Calvin College. In order to foreground the faith world of Europeans during this period, the seminar "begin[s] with an overview of early modern attitudes towards religious pluralism and then turn[s] to analysis of three possible responses that were put into practice in the early modern era: persecution, limited legal recognition, and coexistence strategies." The first week approaches "the issue of truth claims in relation to faith," and, more specifically, the persecution of heresy. The primary texts studied include Thomas Aquinas's definition of heresy, a 1530 German debate, the trial records of Michael Servetus in 1553, and the trial of the Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler. The second week focuses on the arguments of early modern writers who opposed the use of force against those labeled heretics. Primary texts for this week include Johannes Reuchlin's 1510 treatise, Martin Luther's 1523 treatise, and Sebastian Castellio's dedicatory letter. The third week turns to co-existence and bi-confessional communities. Seminarians read extracts from Genevan, French, and Dutch church records, the Wittenberg Concord of 1536, and the Transylvanian Edict of Torda, among other documents. The focus of the final week is on the interactions between Jews, Christians, and Muslims: the legal status and theological justifications of these communities; inter-faith relations in practice; and the successes and challenges of co-existence for these groups. Participants read selections from Martin Luther's "On War Against the Turk," Isaac ben Abraham's Faith Strengthened, Chava Frankel Goldschmidt's The Historical Writings of Joseph of Rosheim: Leader of Jewry in Early Modern Germany, among other primary and secondary sources. Three experts from the field visit and lead seminar discussions: Ben Kaplan (University College London, UK), Barbara Diefendorf (Boston University), and Dean Bell (Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies)

Dates: July 15—August 9 (4 weeks)
Director(s): Karin Maag, Calvin College, and Amy Nelson Burnette, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Grantee Institutions: Calvin College
Location: Grand Rapids, MI

About NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers

Each year the NEH’s Division of Education Programs offers teachers opportunities to study a variety of humanities topics in Summer Seminars and Institutes. Each NEH Summer Seminar includes sixteen participants working in collaboration with one or two leading scholars. Participants have access to a major research collection, with time reserved to pursue individual projects.

Amount of Award

NEH Summer Scholars are awarded fixed stipends to help cover travel costs, books and other research expenses, and living expenses. Stipend amounts are based on the length of the NEH Summer Seminar or Institute: $2,100 (2 weeks), $2,700 (3 weeks), $3,300 (4 weeks), $3,900 (5 weeks), or $4,500 (6 weeks).


NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes are designed primarily for teachers of American undergraduate students. Qualified independent scholars and those employed by museums, libraries, historical societies, and other organizations may be eligible to compete provided they can effectively advance the teaching and research goals of the project.

You may request information about as many projects as you like, but you may apply to no more than two NEH Summer Programs (seminars, institutes, or Landmarks workshops) and you may attend only one.

Please note:

Adjunct faculty, community college faculty and first-time participants are encouraged to apply.

Up to two seminar spaces and three institute spaces are reserved for current full-time graduate students in the humanities.

How to Apply

For more information and application instructions, please visit the program website listed above.